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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 632: debated on Wednesday 6 December 2017


The Secretary of State was asked—

Superfast Broadband

1. What recent discussions he has had with (a) the Scottish Government and (b) Cabinet colleagues on the roll-out of superfast broadband in Scotland. (902715)

May I start by paying tribute to Jimmy Hood, who died earlier this week? Jimmy was formerly my neighbouring MP and a constituent, and although I have to say that we did not agree on very much, we always got on very well. I remain grateful to Jimmy for his help and support when I was first elected to this House. Jimmy would have been proud to see himself as a traditional Labour man through and through, a fighter for mining communities and mining interests and, obviously, a parliamentarian of 28 years’ standing who held many important roles in this Parliament. Our thoughts are with Marion and his family at this time.

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues, the UK Minister for Digital and the Scottish Government regarding the roll-out of superfast broadband. Just last week, the Minister for Digital met the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity to discuss broadband roll-out and the delays that we have seen from the Scottish Government.

May I join the Scottish Secretary in paying tribute to Jimmy Hood? Jimmy was a friend of mine, and a friend of many of us here. He would have appreciated my saying that he was a bear of a man, and our Parliament was better for him and his kind.

On broadband roll-out, the Prime Minister recently told the House that the Government intend to work through Scottish local authorities. Will the Secretary of State tell us exactly how he will work with local authorities to ensure that, as we roll out broadband, it is delivered to the homes, communities and businesses that are not yet properly connected?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. The Minister for Digital made it very clear that his approach to local authorities was based on the fact that the Scottish Government, who previously had responsibility for the roll-out, are three years behind on rolling out broadband in Scotland, and that is not good enough for people living in any of Scotland’s local authority areas. The Minister and I believe that local authorities will give greater priority and expertise to this task than the Scottish Government, which is why we are engaging with them.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the borderlands initiative is a real opportunity to ensure that digital connectivity in that area is greatly improved, which will enhance the economy of the borderlands area?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Connectivity is at the heart of the proposal that the five cross-border local authorities have brought forward in the borderlands package. My hon. Friend will be aware that the original intention for the roll-out of broadband in Scotland was to focus on the south of Scotland but, in their centralising way, the SNP Scottish Government put a stop to that.

10. I echo the Secretary of State’s comments about Jimmy Hood, who will be sadly missed by all on this side of the House.Superfast broadband is very important for those who want to access banking. There are now more cash machines in this House than there are on Cambuslang Main Street in my constituency. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Royal Bank of Scotland about its programme of branch closures? (902724)

I very much accept the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. It is not good enough for RBS to say that people can rely on internet and mobile banking when so many people in Scotland do not have access to the internet or effective mobile services. When I meet the Royal Bank tomorrow, I will convey the concerns—I think from across the House—about its programme of closures.

12. In an area that is entirely reserved, the UK Government allocation of £21 million to Scotland’s R100 programme—the Reaching 100% programme—is less than the amount that Devon and Somerset received. Is the Secretary of State not ashamed that, on his watch, he has allowed Scotland to be so chronically underfunded? (902726)

This is not even about funding; it is about spending the money and taking action to roll out broadband. Three years ago—I repeat, three years ago—there was an allocation of funding, and no action has been taken to procure the roll-out.

Does the Secretary of State not think the Scottish Conservatives should just stop embarrassing themselves on the issue of broadband? Thanks to the added value of the Scottish Government’s investment, we have the fastest broadband roll-out in the whole of the UK. Without that investment, only 41% of premises in my constituency would have access to fibre broadband; instead, 82% have. In the Secretary of State’s constituency, the figure is 80% instead of 39%. Perhaps the Scottish Conservatives should avail themselves of Scottish broadband and google how not to embarrass themselves in this House?

If anyone has embarrassed himself, it is the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, who sent out 35 tweets to tell people what a good job he was doing. The First Minister of Scotland sent my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) a seven-tweet thread to tell her what a good job she was doing. People up and down Scotland who do not receive adequate broadband services know who is to blame: the Scottish Government.

Revenue Budget

2. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effect of the autumn Budget 2017 on the level of Scotland’s revenue budget. (902716)

The recent Budget shows that we are delivering for Scotland, including £347 million in additional resource budget as part of £2 billion extra as a result of Barnett consequentials.

Under the Secretary of State for Scotland’s watch, Scotland’s revenue budget has been cut by £2.6 billion, including a £200 million cut next year alone. Under this Secretary of State for Scotland, more than £200 million of common agricultural policy convergence funding has been stolen. He also voted against the VAT exemption for police and fire services. Why has the Secretary of State done nothing to prevent those Tory measures?

The hon. Gentleman suggests that we have done nothing, but the day before the Budget, that £347 million of additional resource budget was not there. That was announced in the Budget statement, along with another £1.7 billion of additional capital to support the businesses and people of Scotland.

I am sure that Members on both sides of the House appreciate the role that oil and gas play not just in the north-east economy, but in the UK economy. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the transferable tax history that was set out in the Budget is a desperately needed shot in the arm for the industry, and a step in the right direction to making Aberdeen a global hub for decommissioning? That shows that 13 Scottish Tory MPs get things done.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I know that the oil and gas sector has warmly welcomed the changes that we are making to provide additional tax relief through transferable tax history. Many in the sector believe that that measure will lead to tens of billions of additional investment during the lifetime of the North sea reserves.

I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s kind remarks about the late Jimmy Hood, who was a fine champion of Labour values and of his community. The whole House offers condolences to his family and all those who knew him.

The Government claim that Scotland has received an additional £2 billion in the Budget, yet the Fraser of Allander Institute says that the revenue budget will be about £500 million less in real terms within the next two years. Who are the people of Scotland to believe: this redundant Secretary of State, or a world-renowned economic think-tank? Will the Financial Secretary address that question directly?

The figures speak for themselves. As the hon. Gentleman should know—I am sure that he does—by 2020 the block grant to Scotland will be £31.1 billion before devolutionary adjustments, and that is a simple real-terms increase.

Joint Ministerial Committee

The Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) provides a valuable forum for the UK Government and devolved Administrations to discuss EU exit. We took an important step forward at the last meeting in October by agreeing a set of principles to govern the consideration of frameworks. Another meeting will be held next Tuesday, and I hope to see significant progress then.

I welcome the constructive approach that is being taken to the Joint Ministerial Committee. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that both sides keep this up and make real progress on the substance, so that as we leave the EU we have a stronger Scottish Parliament as part of a stronger United Kingdom?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I look forward to the opportunity to continue the good progress that we are making in our framework discussions, which will lead to significantly more powers for Holyrood while maintaining the integrity of the UK’s internal market.

As my right hon. Friend will know, fishing is a totemic industry in my constituency of Banff and Buchan, where there is real concern that the Scottish Government want to take Scotland back into the common fisheries policy. Can he reassure me that in all conversations and negotiations in the JMC (EN), he stands firm on taking Scotland’s fishermen out of the CFP, and keeping them out?

In his short time in this Parliament, my hon. Friend has already come to be seen as a champion for the fishing industry. I can give him an absolute guarantee: unlike the Scottish National party, which would take us straight back into the common fisheries policy, this Government will take Scotland and the rest of the UK out of that discredited policy.

The Secretary of State rightly argued in September 2014 that if Scotland left the United Kingdom, there would be a barrier at Berwick because of Scotland leaving the UK single market. Can he tell the House why it is any different for the island of Ireland? Is not his Brexit shambles a threat to the United Kingdom?

I have been, and remain, absolutely clear that nothing will be done in any Brexit deal that will threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom, and particularly Scotland’s part in it.

Given the miasma of despair that hangs over this dying Government, Scotland needs a competent and cogent voice at the Cabinet table. To prove that that voice is his, will the Secretary of State tell us his red lines, in Scotland’s interests, that he has laid out to the Prime Minister?

I am quite clear that my red line is the integrity of the United Kingdom, and keeping Scotland in the United Kingdom, which people in Scotland voted for in 2014. We are leaving the EU as a United Kingdom, and nothing that the SNP does will stop that.

Industrial Strategy

5. What steps the Government plan to take to ensure that Scotland benefits from the new industrial strategy. (902719)

The industrial strategy is a comprehensive plan for boosting productivity to raise the earning power of people and businesses. We have been working constructively with the Scottish Government, who hold many of the policy levers that will help to make the industrial strategy a success in Scotland. We have proposed a review of inter-agency collaboration to maximise the coherence and impact of both Governments’ work in Scotland.

This UK-wide industrial strategy is extremely welcome in my constituency. Southampton airport connects Eastleigh to Edinburgh and Glasgow by two busy routes across the UK. Does the Secretary of State agree that regional airports and vital connectivity will increase prosperity in Scotland and England?

I was delighted to hear that Edinburgh airport has had its busiest year ever, so I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend and recognise that regional airports across the UK make a vital contribution to the economic health of the whole country. That is why we are developing a new aviation strategy that will consider how best to encourage and improve domestic connectivity, to the benefit of both Scotland and the whole United Kingdom.

First, may I associate myself and my Liberal Democrat colleagues with the Secretary of State’s comments about the late Jimmy Hood? Every inch of his not insubstantial frame was Labour, but he was always capable of moments of humour and kindness across the party divide, and I am sure that he will be fondly remembered in the House and beyond.

If the industrial strategy is to reach all parts of the United Kingdom, it should be an opportunity for Scotland to develop its potential for wave and tidal power. That will require a dedicated funding stream. What is the Secretary of State doing in collaboration with his colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that we get that dedicated funding stream?

My colleagues in that Department are well aware of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman raises, which are important in ensuring the development of tidal energy in particular. We will continue to look at what funding can be made available for that.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the Government support Scotland’s efforts to be at the forefront of the clean energy and technology industries, which are crucial to our future economic prosperity?

I absolutely will do that. My right hon. Friend will know that, at the recent conference of the parties event in Germany, there were considerable efforts on the part of the whole United Kingdom—the Scottish Government working with the UK Government —to deliver just that.

At the last Scottish questions, the Secretary of State said that he had shared analysis with the Scottish Government. This morning we discovered that there is no impact assessment, so what analysis was shared with the Scottish Government?

First, the material that has been provided to the Exiting the European Union Committee has also been provided to the devolved Administrations. The position was—and is—that officials from the UK and Scottish Governments are working together on the basis of analysis that they have both done.

Leaving the EU: Devolution

6. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. (902720)

9. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on devolving powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (902723)

13. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on devolving powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (902727)

14. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on devolving powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (902728)

The UK Government are working with colleagues in the devolved Administrations to carefully consider our approach to powers returning from the EU. At the last meeting of the JMC (EN) we agreed a set of principles and I am confident that we can take further steps at the next meeting to be held on 12 December.

Does the Secretary of State agree with his Scottish Tory colleagues who described clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill as “not fit for purpose” and said that it

“needs to be…replaced with a new version”—[Official Report, 4 December 2017; Vol. 631, c.731]?

If so, how does he propose to amend it?

I heard the eloquent speech that my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) made during Monday’s debate. Of course, the Government will respond to the issues that he raised.

The Secretary of State will remember that when the Scotland Bill was on its way through Parliament, we submitted 60 amendments, every one of which he and the Government opposed, but most of which they then adopted through the back door of the House of Lords. Do the Secretary of State and the Government intend to use the same discredited, undemocratic process to correct the faults of clause 11?

If the hon. Gentleman has concerns about the procedures of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, he can raise them through the Procedure Committee. He acknowledges exactly what happened: we had a debate; the Government listened and responded; and the Scotland Bill was amended for the better.

The Federation of Small Businesses Scotland, the Institute of Directors Scotland, the Scottish chambers of commerce, Universities Scotland and many other Scottish organisations have called for a differentiated approach to immigration for Scotland. The problems that my constituents such as Françoise Milne face have crystallised the issue and the human cost. Will the Secretary of State table amendments to clause 11 to support the devolution of immigration and visa controls to Scotland?

I do not support the devolution of immigration to Scotland. Three years ago, the Smith commission deliberated on what powers and responsibilities would be held in the Scottish Parliament and what would be held here in Westminster. It was agreed by all parties that Westminster would retain immigration.

During Monday’s debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, Scottish Tory MPs said that clause 11 was “not fit for purpose”, but is not the reality that while we hear much talk from them, they are actually just Lobby fodder for the Government?

Conservative Members are happy to be judged by our actions. We heard all these things when the Scotland Bill was going through the House of Commons, yet at the end of the process, Lord Smith said that it met his committee’s requirements in full. In this House we will deliver an EU (Withdrawal) Bill that can generate the consent of the Scottish and Welsh Governments.

May I commend to my right hon. Friend the most recent report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which was published last week, on inter-institutional relations in the UK? Will he accept that there is a strong consensus that devolution arrangements are not finished and we need far stronger institutional underpinning of the relations between the four parts of the UK, and that this is an opportunity to achieve that?

Of course I have seen my hon. Friend’s excellent report, and the Government are continuing to consider it. Obviously I believe that intergovermental institutions and relations can be improved, and we must continue to work on that.

It is welcome news that good progress was made at the last meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee, when principles underpinning common frameworks were agreed. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital for Scotland’s two Governments to work together as we leave the European Union, so that the common frameworks that we need to maintain the UK internal market are retained while all remaining powers are devolved?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and that is our approach. I am happy to put on record that I welcome the Scottish Government’s constructive approach to these matters in recent weeks.

Let me first thank the Secretary of State and other Members for their condolences, on behalf of Jimmy Hood’s family.

On Monday night, the Scottish Tories were herded through the Lobbies and told to trample all over the devolution settlement. Who issued those instructions, the Prime Minister or Ruth Davidson and the Secretary of State?

I know that the hon. Lady does not like it, but the Bill is going to be amended not at the behest of the Labour party’s incoherent approach or the Scottish National party’s nationalist approach, but because Scottish Conservatives have tabled practical amendments.

I welcome that clarification, but the question was really “Why could the Secretary of State not have presented those amendments the other night?” Throughout Monday’s debate his Scottish colleagues acknowledged that there were deficiencies in the Bill, but were unable to name one. Will the Secretary of State now do what they could not? Will he tell us first what deficiencies there are in the Bill, and secondly why they voted for the Bill to be passed unamended when they all knew that it was fundamentally flawed?

If the hon. Lady had been in the Chamber at the time, she would have heard the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton). He set out very clearly why clause 11 needed to be amended, and what type of amendments would be tabled.

May I associate myself and the Scottish National party with the Secretary of State’s comments about the late Jimmy Hood?

We are more than halfway through consideration in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and, in particular, its effect on devolution. I think that the people of Scotland need clarity during this process. The Secretary of State knows that there is widespread concern throughout the House, and in his own party, about the measures in clause 11. He has indicated that there will be amendments, so may I ask him this? Will the Government table amendments to clause 11, yes or no?

The answer is that it will happen on Report. We have been very clear about this. The Committee stage is about listening and adapting to issues that have been raised; we have listened to my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire, and we will table amendments to clause 11.

Capital Project Funding

8. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government since the autumn Budget 2017 on plans for capital project funding in Scotland. (902722)

Further to our discussions with the Scottish Government and the announcements made in the Budget, an additional £1.7 billion will be available to Scotland in capital resources. That is a 33% increase in real terms.

Does the Secretary of State agree that while the sum is much less than might have been hoped for, the Barnett consequentials for housing should be ring-fenced by the Scottish Government for that purpose alone, and not for another high-profile, faulty bridge?

The hon. Lady is, I know, most vexed about the Queensferry crossing, and she is right to be so. It was widely trumpeted by the Scottish Government and the SNP as a great infrastructure success, yet I understand that it is currently partly closed, and is likely to be suffering from closures for many months to come, at great inconvenience to the hon. Lady’s constituents. [Interruption.] She should address her comments to the SNP and the Scottish Government. [Interruption.]

We are grateful to the Financial Secretary—or at least those of us who could hear him were. We now come to the question of the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) who wants to ask about Scotch whisky, so I ask for a bit of order.

Scotch Whisky: Exports

I was delighted to host the ever-popular Scotch Whisky Association reception at Dover House last night. The UK Government work closely with the association, individual distilleries and companies across a range of issues from market promotion to market access.

The Chancellor’s Budget announcement that he would freeze duty on Scotch whisky is a sign of support for one of Scotland’s great industries. As one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys, I have recently been in Colombia, Peru and Chile banging the drum for Scotch whisky; does my right hon. Friend agree that the Scotch whisky industry has an enormous opportunity to boost trade with growing markets as we look to build a truly global Britain?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that there are huge opportunities for Scotch whisky as we leave the EU, particularly in South America, and I commend him for his activities. I also commend Diageo for the 20th anniversary of the creation of the company on 17 December.

Jobcentre Closures

15. What assessment he has made of the effect of proposed jobcentre closures on local communities in Scotland. (902729)

We continue to provide excellent support to those seeking work, or who cannot work, through a network of offices which are modern, accessible and meet future requirements. Most jobcentres are staying put. We are merging some neighbourhood offices to create bigger, multi-skilled teams and moving to better buildings, all of which will lead to better customer service.

Unemployment in Glasgow has been consistently higher than the national average, child poverty is rising and the use of food banks has increased by 20% in the past two years, so how can the Secretary of State justify closing so many jobcentres, which provide vital support for people to enter the labour market?

I set out in my original answer that this was a system to provide better services, and the hon. Gentleman should know that there was a full review of the proposed closures in Glasgow and that the proposal was changed in response to a public consultation.

I would not be doing my duty as Secretary of State for Scotland if I could not in my final words wish Paisley every success in the city of culture competition.

Prime Minister

Before I call the hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George) to ask Question 1, I should inform the House that the text of the closed question tabled by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) relating to economic performance and public services in the west midlands—Question 5—has, in error, been omitted from the printed copies of the Order Paper. A corrigendum—that is a wonderfully clerkly word—has been made available in the Vote Office and copies are on the Table.

The Prime Minister was asked—


I am sure the whole House will join me in offering condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Police Constable James Dixon from Thames Valley Police, who was killed while on motorcycle duty yesterday, and also to the family and friends of the passenger in the car involved in the collision. I am sure the whole House will also join me in offering condolences to the family and friends of the former Member of this House, Jim Hood, who was a former miner and a strong voice for Lanarkshire in this place for nearly 30 years.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

My constituent, Kate, has run a successful nursery for more than 14 years, but after two months on the Government’s funding for three and four-year-olds, she says that she cannot make it work. She is having to sell her home to pay her staff’s redundancy payments. More than 1,000 nurseries have already closed, and 58% say that they cannot continue. If nurseries close, parents cannot work. Please will the Prime Minister meet me and the nursery owners to discuss these widespread and critical problems?

I have indeed recently met some nursery owners to look at this issue, and they have given a clear message that there are parts of the country where local authorities are operating the system very efficiently and very well, and parts of the country where that is not happening. What underpins this issue is the decision taken by this Government to improve the childcare offer for parents so that they have a better opportunity to ensure that their children get into the childcare that they need.

Q3. Will the Prime Minister give us a quick update on the Brexit negotiations? Does she agree that, post-Brexit, it will be absolutely crucial that we enhance skills and apprenticeships in the construction and housing sector? Does she also agree that now is not the time for the Construction Industry Training Board to be proposing to close its site at Bircham in West Norfolk, putting at risk 600 jobs in a rural area? Will she meet me to discuss this, and will she help me in my campaign? (902777)

My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituency, and he has been a great supporter of the CITB at Bircham. I am very happy to support his campaign; I wish him well, and I am happy to meet him.

My hon. Friend asked about Brexit, and what we are doing in the Brexit negotiations is ensuring that we can indeed build those houses and build the country for the future that we want to see. The principles that we are working to are that the text that is currently being discussed is a report on the progress of the negotiations, on which basis the European Commission will decide whether sufficient progress has been made to enable us to move on to the next stage of talks. It is for those future talks to agree precisely how we ensure cross-border trade while maintaining the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. We are leaving the European Union, and we are leaving the single market and the customs union, but we will do what is right in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

I join the Prime Minister in expressing condolences about the police officer and the passenger who lost their lives in the tragic event yesterday. I also join her in paying tribute to the late Jimmy Hood, who represented Clydesdale and, later, Lanark and Hamilton East. He was a good friend of all of us, and he was a great fighter for the coal industry and the mineworkers union during the strike and after that, during his time here. We thank Jimmy for his work for the labour movement.

In July, the International Trade Secretary said that the Brexit negotiations would be

“the easiest in human history”.

Does the Prime Minister still agree with that assessment?

I am very pleased to report to the right hon. Gentleman that the negotiations are in progress, as I have just said, and very good progress has been made in those negotiations—[Interruption.] What the Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) has been focusing on is the trade negotiations for the future. Indeed, because we are already a member of the European Union, when we leave we will not have the same relationship with it as, say, Canada had in negotiating a trade agreement. We therefore expect to be able to get the deal that is right for the whole of the United Kingdom. To be able to do that, we need to move on to phase 2. If the right hon. Gentleman is so concerned about easing negotiations, why did his MEPs vote against enabling us to do that?

The Prime Minister can always look behind her. She has not succeeded in convincing many people. Yesterday, one Tory donor told the papers:

“Yesterday proved beyond doubt that”

the Prime Minister

“is not only weak but that it’s her incompetence that is hobbling the UK.”

He was not very kind about the rest of her Front Benchers either, describing them as a

“bunch of jellyfish masquerading as the cabinet”.

This is truly a coalition of chaos. At the start of the week it all seemed to be going so well: the Prime Minister had scheduled a lunch with Jean-Claude Juncker, followed by a press conference, and then was to return triumphantly to the House to present her deal. [Interruption.]

Order. Let me make it clear for the umpteenth time—[Interruption.] I know what is going on. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), but I can look after these matters. No one in this Chamber is going to be shouted down. It will not happen. If people think that they can sit where I cannot see them and make a raucous noise, they are very foolish, because I know where they are and I know what they are up to, and it is not going to work—end of subject.

On the Prime Minister’s way back to Britain, someone forgot to share the details of the Irish border deal with the Democratic Unionist party. Surely there are 1.5 billion reasons why the Prime Minister really should not have forgotten to do that.

It was a little difficult to detect a question within that interruption. As President Juncker said on Monday, there are still a couple of things that we are negotiating, and he is confident that we will be able to achieve sufficient progress. But if the right hon. Gentleman wants to wonder about plans for negotiations, perhaps he should look at his own Front Bench. The shadow Chancellor used to say that staying in the single market was “not respecting the referendum”, but now he says that it is “on the table”. The shadow Trade Secretary used to say that staying in the customs union was “deeply unattractive”, but now he says that it “isn’t off the table”. We now know from the shadow Chancellor what their approach really is: it is not to have a plan at all. When asked what the Labour party’s plan was, he said, “Well, that’s difficult for us.” As we all know, the only thing that the Labour party is planning for is a run on the pound.

The Prime Minister was unable to support her Brexit Secretary when he tried to explain that a deal was supposed to have been done in October but still has not been done by December. The leader of the DUP told Irish television that she got sight of the deal only on Monday morning, five weeks after she first asked for it. Two months after the original deadline for the first phase of talks, and after Monday’s shambles, is the Prime Minister now about to end the confusion and clearly outline what the Government’s position is now with regard to the Irish border?

I am very happy to outline to the right hon. Gentleman the position that I have taken on the Irish border with Northern Ireland; it is exactly the same position that I took in the Lancaster House speech, that I took in the Florence speech and that we have taken consistently in the negotiations. We will ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. [Hon. Members: “How?”] We will do that while we respect the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, and while we respect and protect the internal market of the United Kingdom. [Hon. Members: “How?”] I say to those Labour Members shouting “How?”, that is the whole point of the second phase of the negotiations, because we aim to deliver this as part of our overall trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and we can only talk about that when we get into phase 2. We have a plan; he has none.

Eighteen months after the referendum, the Prime Minister is unable to answer the question. On Monday, as she thought she was coming here to make a statement, it was vetoed by the leader of the DUP—the tail really is wagging the dog here.

The Brexit Secretary told the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” in June:

“In my job I don’t think out loud and I don’t make guesses… I try and make decisions. You make those based on the data. That data is being gathered. We’ve got 50—nearly 60—sectoral analyses already done.”

This House voted to see those analyses, but today the Brexit Secretary told the Brexit Committee that the analyses actually do not exist. Can the Prime Minister put us out of our misery? Do they exist, or do they not? Have they done the work, or have they not? That is surely one question she can answer after 18 months.

May I make a gentle suggestion to the Leader of the Opposition? He asked me a question on the Northern Irish border, and I answered the question. He then stood up and said that I had not answered the question. Perhaps he should listen to the answers that I give.

The House requested, as I understand it, 58 sectoral impact assessments. There were no 58 sectoral impact assessments; there was sectoral analysis. Over 800 pages of sectoral analysis have been published and made available to the Select Committee, and arrangements have been made available for Members of this House to see them. We are very clear that we will not give a running commentary on negotiations as they proceed, but what we will do is work for what this country wants. We will ensure that we leave the European Union in March 2019. We will leave the internal market; we will leave the customs union at the same time; and we will ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland when we do it.

This really is a shambles. All the Government have done is offer a heavily redacted, abbreviated version, which has not been widely shared. The Brexit Secretary said in September that a £50 billion divorce payment was “complete nonsense.” The Foreign Secretary rejected any payment and said that the EU could “go whistle.” Can the Prime Minister put before the House a fully itemised account of any proposed payment that could be independently audited by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the National Audit Office?

We are at the point of progressing on to the next stage. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, so the final settlement will not be agreed until we have got the whole deal agreed. The right hon. Gentleman asked me earlier about hard borders. Half the Labour party wants to stay in the single market and half the Labour party wants to leave the single market. The only hard border around is right down the middle of the Labour party.

Eighteen months since the referendum, there are no answers to the questions. Today, the Government have not yet concluded phase 1, and there are no answers to the questions and the DUP appears to be ruling the roost and telling the Prime Minister what to do.

Whether it is Brexit, the national health service, social care, our rip-off railways, rising child poverty, growing pensioner poverty or universal credit, this Government are unable to solve important issues facing this country. In fact, they are making them worse. The economy is slowing; more people are in poverty; and the Brexit negotiations are in a shambles. This Government are clearly not fit for the future. If they cannot negotiate a good deal, would it not be better if they just got out of the way?

Week in, week out, the right hon. Gentleman comes to this House making promises he knows he cannot deliver, and Labour Members keep doing it. At the election, he told students that they would write off their student debt, and then he said, “I did not commit to write off the debt.” But what is the Labour party doing? It is putting around leaflets that say, “Labour will cancel existing student debt”. It is time he apologised for the grossly misleading Labour leaflets.

Public Services: West Midlands

Q5. What recent assessment she has made of the (a) economic performance and (b) level of provision of public services in the west midlands; and if she will make a statement. (902779)

I am pleased to say that employment in the west midlands has risen by 198,000 since the 2010 election. In the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed that people living and working in the west midlands will benefit from a second devolution deal and a £250 million allocation for regional transport projects.

The devolution deal, the Budget and now the establishment of the national battery research and development centre in the west midlands put the whole region at the very heart of European autonomous-drive and electric-drive cars. So will my right hon. Friend commit to continuing to support this important industry? Will she make a very important promise to me? [Hon. Members: “Ooh!] Yes. Will she get rid of that gas-guzzler Jaguar of hers in No. 10 Downing Street and get a modern Jaguar, an electric one, from the west midlands, because we are the party of the future, not the old Labour dinosaurs opposite?

Perhaps I could just let my hon. Friend know that, sadly, the Jaguar in No. 10 Downing Street is not mine, but he is absolutely right that the west midlands is at the heart of this important industry. We are investing £31 million in the west midlands for the development of testing infrastructure for connected and autonomous vehicles, and we will also build on west midlands expertise in self-driving cars as we invest a further £5 million in an initial 5G testbed. I certainly look forward to seeing this technology developing further.

May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister regarding the late Jimmy Hood and pass on the condolences of Scottish National party Members to his family and friends?

I am sure the House will also want to join me in welcoming Billy Irving, one of the Chennai six, who has arrived back in Scotland this morning.

So now we know that the deal that was done with the DUP to keep the Prime Minister in office gave the DUP a veto over Brexit. It is embarrassing that it was being briefed on Monday morning that the Prime Minister had a deal, only to take this off the table after a call with the DUP. Is this a Prime Minister who is in office but not in power?

What we are doing is working for a deal that will work for the whole United Kingdom. There are particular circumstances for Northern Ireland, because it is the one part of the UK that shares a land border with a country that will be remaining in the European Union. But as we look ahead, and during the negotiations, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, we are consulting and talking to all parts of the UK—the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government. We want to ensure that we get the right deal for the UK. That is the deal that I have set out: we will be leaving the European Union; we will be leaving the single market; we will be leaving the customs union; but we will ensure that we get that good trade deal for the future.

The clock is ticking, and we need a deal that keeps us in the single market and the customs union—to do otherwise will devastate our economy and cost jobs. Will the Prime Minister recognise that such a deal will resolve the Irish border question and protect jobs throughout the UK? Anything less will be a failure of leadership.

The right hon. Gentleman continues to bark up the wrong tree. We are leaving the European Union. That means we will be leaving the single market and leaving the customs union. We will take back and ensure that we can do trade deals around the rest of the world. That will be important for us. He references jobs and it will be important in ensuring jobs in this country. We will get a good deal on trade and security, because this is not just about trade for our future relationship. I set out in my Florence speech the deep and special partnership we want to continue to have with the European Union. That is about a trade deal that ensures jobs and prosperity across the whole United Kingdom.

Order. I just politely observe that the Front-Bench exchanges have absorbed a disproportionately large share of the time, but I am determined to accommodate Back Benchers who are waiting to ask their questions.

Q9. The bottle- neck on the A417 continues to cause dreadful accidents, as well as traffic misery in Gloucestershire. Following the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and with the support of Members from Gloucestershire, the vital consultation stage on the shortlisted improvement proposals will begin shortly. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister back the scheme, and does she agree that by committing hundreds of millions of pounds to this crucial project, the Government are backing the Gloucestershire economy? (902783)

I know that my hon. Friend has been working tirelessly on this issue. I understand the concerns and frustrations of drivers in his constituency and elsewhere about this vital strategic road, which is vital for not only Gloucestershire but the wider region. I am happy to assure him that we are backing the development of the multimillion-pound Air Balloon roundabout scheme, which was announced in 2014. A consultation will begin shortly, so that we can develop the right solution to tackle this pinch-point and continue our support, which, as my hon. Friend said, is good for the whole of Gloucestershire’s economy.

Q2. The Prime Minister has been unable to provide us with a single plausible Brexit scenario that will meet her red lines and be acceptable to her Cabinet, to Ireland and to the DUP. Is it not therefore time that she dropped either her red lines, the DUP, or the pretence that she can govern this country? (902776)

The hon. Lady is just completely wrong. The Government have published a number of documents that set out the various options that can be taken forward with respect to the future trade relationship, that address the whole question of the customs relationship and that would address the issue of the Northern Ireland border. We have already published those proposals in detail. Those details are not part of the negotiations at the moment; they will become part of the negotiations when we move on to phase 2.

Q13. When the British people voted to leave the European super-state, they voted to end the free movement of people, to stop sending billions and billions of pounds to the EU each and every year, and to make our laws in our own country, judged by our own judges. Are we still on course to deliver that? If we have a problem, would it help if I came over to Brussels with the Prime Minister to sort it out? (902787)

I am always happy to spend time in my hon. Friend’s company. I hope that his petition on chicken farms went down well the other evening. The answer is, yes, we are on course to deliver what the people of this country voted for when they voted to leave the European Union.

Q4. Will the Prime Minister support new trans-Pennine rail links, namely High Speed 3, and also the restoration of the Skipton-Colne link, which, as well as providing an economic boost to Pennine towns, has the additional merit of starting in the constituency of the Government Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith)? (902778)

We are of course looking seriously at and have been supportive of the concept of the trans-Pennine railway. As I understand it, we are waiting for specific proposals to be brought forward. We will of course look at those proposals very seriously.

I am sure the whole House is aware that 40 years ago today, this House came together and voted for a new charity, Motability, which has transformed the lives of disabled people and their families. Does the Prime Minister agree that the success, started by Lord Goodman when he was chairman and now continued by Lord Sterling, should be carried forward? Motability gives a golden opportunity for disabled people to get into the workplace and enjoy the things that everybody else in this country does.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for marking the 40th anniversary of Motability in this way, and I am very happy to join him in that. I am looking forward to becoming a senior patron of the charity, because it does excellent work for people with disabilities, enabling them to stay mobile and active. There are more people with a Motability car today than there were in 2010. I also wish my right hon. Friend well, as I understand that he will be going to the Palace tomorrow to receive his well-deserved knighthood.

Q6. In the light of the news today and the reported terrorist threat on the Prime Minister and others, may I assure her of our prayers for her and Her Majesty’s Government and thank the security forces for their sterling efforts?Can the Prime Minister give a specific commitment that nothing will be done that creates any barrier, constitutionally, politically, economically or regulatory, between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom? (902780)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. The simple answer to his question is yes. He will know, as will other Members of this House, that there are already areas in which there are specific arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland—for example, the single energy market that exists between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that there is no hard border; that is exactly what we are working for. We are also working to respect the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom and to protect the internal market of the United Kingdom, and I think that we share those aims.

The Prime Minister will be aware of a Citizens Advice Scotland report, which was issued yesterday, that said that, in Scotland, up to a million consumers pay on average 30% more to have parcels delivered than the rest of the country. In my Moray constituency, this is a huge issue where ridiculous prices are put on to deliver to our area, and, in some cases, companies refuse to deliver at all. Will she tell me what the UK Government can do, with me, to ensure that we right this wrong once and for all?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue and speak up on behalf of his constituents in this way. As I am sure he knows, Royal Mail does provide a universal postal service that includes parcel services five days a week at a uniform price throughout the United Kingdom, but there are commercial issues that play outside this service. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will be happy to meet him and discuss the issue.

Q7. The recognition by Donald Trump of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will do grave damage to the prospects for a just and lasting peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which has been British, and indeed American, foreign policy for decades. Was she consulted about that announcement, and, if so, what did she say? Will she, here and now, unequivocally and clearly condemn it? (902781)

I intend to speak to President Trump about this matter, but our position has not changed—as the right hon. Gentleman says, it has been a long-standing one. It is also a very clear one: the status of Jerusalem should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Jerusalem should ultimately form a shared capital between the Israeli and Palestinian states. We continue to support a two-state solution. We recognise the importance of Jerusalem and our position on that has not changed.

Today, GlaxoSmithKline joined Merck, AstraZeneca and many other companies and charities investing in British bioscience genetics. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this investment in science and research underpins not only jobs but a revolution in medical treatment, which will save lives and give hope to many patients for new treatments?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. She has highlighted a very important sector for the United Kingdom, and I welcome the investment to which she has referred. That is why this sector is one of the sectors that have been given such significance in the industrial strategy that my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has published. It is exactly an area where we see benefits in the form not only of investment and jobs in the UK, but, as she says, of improving the treatments available for patients and of improving their lives.

Q8. When the Prime Minister rings up Donald Trump to express our concern about his moves concerning Jerusalem and the US embassy, will she also inform him that we will be proceeding to recognise the state of Palestine as a central part of keeping the two-state process in play? (902782)

We want to see a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We believe that that should be based on a two-state solution, with a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, but also a secure and safe Israel. That should be a matter for negotiation between the parties.

The whole House will support what the Prime Minister said about the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen during her visit to the middle east last week. Will she continue to provide the maximum amount of pressure to lift both the humanitarian and the commercial blockades, and use Britain’s good offices at the United Nations to secure a resumption of some sort of political peace process that is inclusive and that does not have any preconditions?

My right hon. Friend raises an important issue. I am sure that everybody across the whole House is deeply concerned about the spiralling humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the lingering threat of famine there. As he said, I raised my concerns when I visited Saudi Arabia last week. I made it clear that the UK wants to see Hodeidah port open not just for humanitarian vessels with aid able to get in, but for commercial vessels as well. This is crucial and important. My right hon. Friend referenced the need for peace talks. That is our top priority. The best way to bring a long-term solution and stability is with a political solution. We will continue to support the efforts of the UN special envoy and to play a leading role in diplomatic efforts to ensure that a political solution can be reached.

Q10. Due to the £1 billion deal, the Democratic Unionist party MPs revel in an analogy that each one is worth more than Ronaldo. When we look at the value of the Scottish Tories, we need to consider the £2.5 billion cut to Scotland’s budget, the £600 million rail shortfall, the £200 million in common agricultural policy convergence that has been stolen, and the £140 million VAT refund that we are still due. Each one of these Scottish Tories costs Scotland £265 million, so can we free transfer them? (902784)

It is time that the hon. Gentleman actually looked at the facts when he stands up to ask his questions. It is my Scottish Conservative colleagues who have ensured that we were able to take steps in the Budget in relation to the VAT status of Police Scotland and the fire services in Scotland. He obviously had not noticed—but I am happy to repeat this to him—that £2 billion extra will go to Scotland as a result of the Budget.

In 2010, the Conservative-led Government set out to reform the school curriculum in order to give our children the skills they need to succeed. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that yesterday’s reading standards results are a vindication of our reforms and our amazing teachers’ efforts, which will allow our children to forge a truly global Britain?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising an important issue. I am very happy to agree with her on this. Yesterday, we learnt how the UK’s revolution in phonics has dramatically improved school standards. I pay particular tribute to the Minister for School Standards, who has worked tirelessly to this end throughout his time in the House. I also pay tribute to the hard work of teachers up and down the country. I will just give the House the figures. In 2012, 58% of six-year-olds passed reading checks; that figure has risen to 81% this year. We are, indeed, building a Britain that is fit for the future.

Q11. In October, the Prime Minister wrote an open letter saying that“EU citizens living lawfully in the UK today will be able to stay.”But my constituent, Francoise Milne, was told this week by UK Visas and Immigration that she had to wait until Brexit was done and then take her chances. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether the EU citizens living here are just pawns in the Brexit negotiations, or will she change UKVI’s operating systems to ensure that EU citizens can stay? (902785)

The position on EU citizens that I set out in my open letter is the position of the United Kingdom Government. If the hon. Lady has a complaint about something that UKVI has said, I suggest that she sends that information to the Immigration Minister.

Yesterday, the all-party parliamentary group on cancer held its annual Britain Against Cancer conference—the largest one-day gathering of the cancer community in the UK—to launch our report on the cancer strategy. We heard from the Government and NHS England about the many good things that are happening. But there is one issue that is causing real concern to frontline services: the delay in the release of the transformation funding to those frontline services, courtesy of an additional requirement applied to the funding after the bidding process closed. I have discussed the issue with the Secretary of State for Health, who is a jolly chap. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss the matter further?

Of course this is an important issue. As my hon. Friend said, we have seen great progress in providing higher standards of cancer care for all patients. Survival rates are at a record high and about 7,000 more people are surviving cancer after successful NHS treatment compared to three years ago. Of course we want to do more on this issue. He raised a very specific point. I understand that the Department of Health is adopting a phased approach to investment, as the national cancer programme runs for a further three years. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter.

Q12. Contrary to the Prime Minister’s previous answer on this subject, only her Government can remove barriers to universal credit for terminally ill people in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Will she answer the question again? Will she end the cruel requirement for people across the UK who do not want to know they are dying to self-certify on universal credit? (902786)

I will ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to look at this issue. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are working on how universal credit is rolled out and how it is dealt with in relation to individuals. I am sure he will understand that if particular things within universal credit apply to people in particular circumstances, they can be applied only if the jobcentres are aware of those circumstances. I will ask the Department for Work and Pensions to look at the matter.

Before my right hon. Friend next goes to Brussels, will she apply a new coat of paint to her red lines, because I fear that on Monday they were beginning to look a little bit pink?

No, I happily say to my hon. Friend that the principles on which the Government are negotiating were set out in the Lancaster House speech and in the Florence speech, and those principles remain.

Q14. This morning, London MPs were briefed by the Metropolitan Police Service on the grave challenge of serious youth violence and violent crime, including the scourge of scooter-assisted crime. While robberies are up 30% in London, the police service in London faces a £400-million squeeze that will drive police numbers down to their lowest in 20 years, and my own borough has already lost 198 police officers. Does the Prime Minister still think that we have the police resources we need? (902788)

We are not reducing the Metropolitan police budget. We are protecting police budgets. They were protected in the 2015 spending review. I repeat what I have said in this House before: there is more money and there are more officers for each Londoner than is the case anywhere else in the country. Of course, it is up to the Mayor of London to decide how that budget is spent. The hon. Lady also raised the important issue of scooter or moped crime. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has held a roundtable with police and others in the Home Office to look at how that can be better addressed.

The industrial strategy identifies that the world will need 60% more food by 2050. As we leave the EU, will the Prime Minister commit to supporting our farmers?

I am very happy to commit to supporting our farmers. Markets for British food are growing around the world and we want them to grow even further. Leaving the EU means that we will have an opportunity to design a new approach to agricultural policy—one that supports our farmers to grow more, to sell more and to export more of their world-class products. We will ensure that we have an agricultural policy that actually meets the needs of the United Kingdom.

Q15. This week, motor manufacturers announced a year-on-year drop in car sales of more than 11%. They blame confusion caused by the Government’s incoherent policy on clean air and diesels, Budget measures and uncertainty caused by Brexit. This industry is vital to both the national economy and jobs in the west midlands. What will the Government do to turn this around? (902789)

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), he would have heard how we are supporting the automotive industry—crucially, supporting the future of the automotive industry. We recognise its importance for the west midlands and its importance for the United Kingdom. That is why we are very clear in our industrial strategy that it is one of those sectors that we will be supporting so that we can support these jobs and its prosperity for the future.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that she is aware of the very strong enthusiasm for free trade deals with the UK from countries like Canada, Japan, the United States and Australia, and even for UK participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership? But none of these opportunities will come our way if we remain shackled to EU regulation after we have left the EU.

I am very happy to say to my hon. Friend that I do recognise the enthusiasm out there around the rest of the world for us to do trade deals with other countries. I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary was recently in Australia discussing just these opportunities. When I go around the world, I also hear the same message from a whole variety of countries—they want to do trade deals for us in the future. We want to ensure that we get a good trade deal with the European Union and the freedom to negotiate these trade deals around the rest of the world.

Diolch yn fawr, Mr Llefarydd. On Monday evening, during the opening speeches on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, those on the Government Benches showed their true colours. Revealed were the imperial British Government’s intentions spelled out in red, white and blue. Would the Prime Minister care to echo the Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, who said, “It is a power grab, and what a wonderful power grab it is too”? Or would she admit that the scrabble to repatriate powers from Brussels provides a grubby excuse to deny our democratic rights in Wales?

I think the hon. Lady knows full well that what my hon. Friend was saying was that when we leave the European Union we will be grabbing powers back from Brussels to the United Kingdom, and that is exactly right. Following that, we expect to see a significant increase in the decision-making power of devolved Administrations as a result, and that is absolutely right. If Plaid Cymru Members are saying that they want to see powers rest in Brussels, we take a different view—we want those powers to be here in the United Kingdom.

Today, shortlisted cities are making their final pitches in the campaign to be named UK city of culture in 2021. Will the Prime Minister join me in wishing the Stoke-on-Trent team every success in their bid to see Stoke-on-Trent become the next city of culture for Britain?

I have been very happy to visit Stoke-on-Trent on a number of occasions. My hon. Friend is a valiant champion for Stoke-on-Trent, and I wish it all the best, but I have to say to him that I have been asked about a number of other bids from cities around the United Kingdom. I am sure that all those cities that are bidding have extremely good cases to be recognised in this way.